Since 1920 the Pardubice castle has been the home of the Museum of East Bohemia, and in 2010 the castle was declared a National Cultural Monument. The museum is run by the Pardubice Region.
THE FOUNDATION OF A MUSEUM ASSOCIATION
The first steps towards the creation of a museum in Pardubice were taken in 1880, when the statutes of the Pardubice Museum Association were approved. The association was founded by a group of local enthusiasts who wanted to preserve various items of historical and natural interest, which were increasingly coming under threat. Thanks to strong public interest and generous donations the museum’s collections grew rapidly, and within just a few years the association had to address issues caused by a lack of suitable exhibition space. After years of unsuccessful efforts to raise funds and find a place to build a dedicated museum building, the problem was finally solved in 1920, when the association (financially supported by the City of Pardubice and other benefactors) purchased the Pardubice castle – followed a year later by the castle at nearby Kunětická Hora.
THE MUSEUM AT THE CASTLE
The purchase of the Pardubice castle site was a momentous decision for the museum, and it had both positive and negative impacts. None of the castle’s original furnishings had survived, so the building offered ample space for the museum’s collections – moreover situated in a very attractive environment. On the other hand, the historical value of the site placed severe limitations on the options for reconstructing the interiors to create suitable spaces for displaying the collections. While carrying out structural alterations, the museum association discovered remnants of the original Renaissance murals and other features of great historical value. Thanks to the association’s commercial activities (leasing land and premises, running a restaurant), subsidies from local and national government, and the generosity of private benefactors, the castle and its museum collections ultimately became one of the jewels in Pardubice’s crown.
UNDER STATE OWNERSHIP
The museum association effectively ceased to function after the Second World War, as many of its members were no longer able to engage in their pre-war activities. In 1952, following the communists’ seizure of power, the association was forced to transfer the castle to the control of the state, and in the following year its collections were also nationalized. Soon afterwards the association was dissolved, and the care of the museum collections was entrusted to professional museum workers for the first time. The communist era brought both positive and negative impacts on the museum in Pardubice – a situation that was mirrored in museums throughout the country. One the one hand, the museum became more professional; the collections were greatly expanded, care of the items was improved, and the museum’s staff were involved in extensive research and educational activities. On the other hand, the museum had to pay a high price for these improvements, as it was subjected to complete centralized state control implemented by a single ruling party. The museum thus became a propaganda tool promoting the officially approved “scientific” worldview and communist party policies. The museum’s staff were only allowed to do research and other expert activities if they paid lip-service to the regime’s ideology or if their work was restricted to areas which entirely lacked any political dimension.
THE CASTLE FALLS INTO DERELICTION
The museum – named the Museum of East Bohemia from 1964 – gradually built up its core permanent exhibitions. Its collections were expanded, and it became very active in giving lectures and talks to the general public. Several institutions were created whose activities had originally been carried out by museum staff – first the archives (today the State District Archives in Pardubice), then the gallery (today the East Bohemian Gallery), and finally the regional heritage management centre (today the Pardubice branch of the National Heritage Institute). However, the state authorities increasingly neglected essential maintenance work at the castle, which eventually fell into an alarming state of dereliction. A complete reconstruction project was finally launched after part of the ceilings in the second floor of the palace collapsed in 1977. It was during this period of “normalization” – the hard-line political crackdown that followed the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 and continued into the 1980s – that the Pardubice museum lost its independent status, becoming a branch of the museum in the neighbouring city of Hradec Králové. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the collapse of the communist regime, administrative reforms enabled the museum to once more become an independent entity, and in 1991 it came under control of the Czech Ministry of Culture.
A PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES
Even after the Velvet Revolution, the reconstruction work at the castle proceeded very slowly, and the site remained mostly derelict. For more than 15 years the museum was completely closed to the public. The turning-point came in 1994, when the castle was taken over by the Museum of East Bohemia; this injected some urgency into the ongoing repairs. From the end of 1997 onwards, the castle was gradually opened up to the public once again. The first parts of the castle to be re-opened were the three knights’ halls with their valuable Renaissance murals, and the most valuable items from the museum’s collections were displayed to the public as permanent exhibitions. Exhibition halls were also created for temporary exhibitions, and the museum opened a lecture hall, a museum library and study room, and a café.
The Museum of East Bohemia currently holds around 800 000 items in its collections, and it employs around 70 staff. It publishes two annual academic periodicals as well as other publications. It ranks among the top twenty museums in the Czech Republic. It has been run by the Pardubice Region since 2001.
The museum welcomes over 50 000 visitors per year. The castle and its grounds host dozens of cultural and social events throughout the year, attended by over 50 000 people.